The Little Colonel's Holidays, Chapter 2: The End Of The Summer

 

THE LITTLE COLONEL'S HOLIDAYS
By Annie Fellows Johnston (1863-1931)

Published 1901
Illustrated by L.J. Bridgman

 

CHAPTER II
THE END OF THE SUMMER

"Oh, the sun shines bright on my old Kentucky home,
'Tis summer, the darkies are gay,
The corn-top's ripe and the meadows are in bloom,
 And the birds make music all the day."

IT was Malcolm who started the old tune, thrumming a soft accompaniment on his banjo, as he sat leaning against one of the great white pillars of the vine-covered porch. Then Betty, swinging in a hammock with a new St. Nicholas in her lap, began to hum with him. Rob Moore, sitting on the step below, took it up next, whistling it softly, but the Little Colonel and Keith went on talking.

It was a warm September afternoon, and all down the long avenue of giant locust-trees there was scarcely a leaf astir. Keith fanned himself with his hat as he talked.

"I wish schools had never been invented," he exclaimed, "or else there was a law that they couldn't begin until cold weather. It makes me wild when I think of having to go back to Louisville to-morrow and begin lessons in that hot old town. Lloyd, I don't believe that you are half thankful enough for being able to live in the country all the year round."

"But it isn't half so nice out heah aftah you all leave," answered the Little Colonel. "You don't know how lonesome the Valley is with you all gone. I can't beah to pass judge Moore's place for weeks aftah the house is closed for the season. It makes me feel as if somebody's dead when I see every window shut and all the blinds down. When Betty goes home next week I don't know how I shall stand it to be all by myself. This has been such a lovely summah."

"We've had some jolly good times, that's a fact," answered Keith with a sigh, to think that they were so nearly over. Then beating time with his foot to the music of Malcolm's banjo, he began to sing with the others

"Oh, weep no more, my lady, weep no more to-day.
We will sing one song for my old Kentucky home,
For my old Kentucky home far away."

Something in the mournful melody, coupled with the thought that this was the end of the summer, and the last of such visits to beautiful old Locust for many a long day, touched each face with a little shade of sadness. For several minutes after the last note of the song died away no one spoke. The only sounds were the bird -calls, and the voices of the cook's grandchildren, who were playing on the other side of the house.

As in many old Southern mansions, the kitchen at Locust was a room some distance back from the house. In the path that led from one to the other, three little darkies were romping and tumbling over each other like three black kittens.

Fat old Aunt Cindy, waddling into the pantry to flour-bin or sugar-barrel, glanced at them occasionally through the open window to see that they were in no mischief, and then went calmly on with her baking. She knew that they were not like white children who need a nurse to watch every step. They had taken care of themselves and each other from the time that they had learned to crawl.

In Aunt Cindy's slow journeys around the kitchen, she stopped from time to time to open the oven door and peep in. Finally she flung it wide open, and, with a satisfied grunt, took out a big square pan. A warm delicious odour filled the kitchen, and floated out around the house to the group on the porch.

"I smell gingerbread!" exclaimed Rob, starting up and sniffing the air excitedly with his short freckled nose.

" Me too!" exclaimed Keith." It's the best thing I ever smelled in my life. Doesn't it make you hungry?"

"Fairly starved!" answered Malcolm.

Lloyd tiptoed to the end of the porch and listened. "If Aunt Cindy's singin' one of her old camp-meetin' tunes then I'd know she was feelin' good, and I wouldn't mind tellin' her that we wanted the whole pan full. But if she happened to be in one of her black tempahs I wouldn't da'h ask for a crumb. She always grumbles if she has to cut a cake while it's hot. She says it spoils them. No, she isn't singin' a note."

"Somebody might slip it out while she isn't looking," suggested Rob. "I'd offer to try, but Aunt Cindy seems to have a grudge against me. She cracked me over the head one day with a gourd dipper, because I spilled molasses on the pantry floor. We wanted to make some candy, and Lloyd sent me in through the window to get it. I dropped the jug, and Aunt Cindy charged at me so furiously that I went out of that window a sight faster than I came in. Whew! I can feel that whack yet!" he added, screwing up his face, and rubbing his head. "You'd better believe I've kept out of her reach ever since."

"I'll tell you what let's do," suggested Keith, growing hungrier every minute as he snuffed that tantalising fragrance. "Let's play that Aunt Cindy is an ogre, a dreadful old fat black ogre, and the gingerbread is some kind of a magic cake that will break the spell she has cast over us, if we can only manage to get it and eat some."

"Oh, yes," agreed Rob, eagerly. "Don't you remember the story that Joyce used to tell us about the Giant Scissors that could do anything they were bidden, if the command were only given in rhyme? Whoever rescues the cake will be the magic Scissors. We can draw lots to see who will be it. Make up a rhyme somebody."

"Giant Scissahs, so bewitchin',
Get the cake out of the kitchen!"

ventured the Little Colonel after a moment's thought.

"Giant Scissors, for our sake
Will you please to take the cake."

added Malcolm, while Betty followed with the suggestion

"Giant Scissors, rush ahead
And bring us back the gingerbread."

"That's the best one," said Rob, "for that calls the article that we're starving for by name. Now we'll draw lots and see who has to play the part of the Scissors and storm old Gruffanuff's castle."

Carefully arranging five blades of grass between his thumbs, he passed around the circle, saying,  "The one who draws the shortest piece has to be it."  There was a shout from all the others and a groan from himself when he discovered that the shortest piece had been left between his own thumbs.

"I'll have to put on my thinking cap and plan some way to get it by strategy," he exclaimed, dropping down on the steps again to consider. I wouldn't brave Aunt Cindy in single combat any more than I'd beard a lion in his den. Help me think of something, all of you."

Just then the three little pickaninnies, who had been playing in the path by the kitchen door, ran around the corner of the porch in hot pursuit of a grasshopper.

"Here, Pearline," called Rob, beckoning to the largest and blackest of them. The child stopped and came slowly toward him. Her head, with its tight little braids of wool sticking out in all directions like tails, was tipped shyly to one side. One finger was in her mouth. With the other hand she was nervously plucking at the skirt of her red calico dress.

"What's your gran'mammy doing now? " inquired Rob.

"Beatin' aigs in de kitchen."  Pearline was wriggling and screwing her little black toes around in the dust as she answered, almost overcome with embarrassment.

"Pearline," said Rob, lowering his voice impressively, "do you think that you could slip into the kitchen as e-easy as a creep-mouse and tiptoe into the pantry behind your gran'mammy's back and pass that pan of gingerbread out through the window to me while she isn't looking? I'll give you a nickel if you'll try."

Pearline gave a swift inquiring look toward the Little Colonel, and seeing her nod consent, she turned to Rob with a delighted flash of white teeth and eye-balls.

"Yessa, Mist Rob. I kin do it if you'll come whilst she's makin' a racket beatin' aigs. But she'll bus' my haid open suah, if she cotch me."

"Mothah doesn't care if we have the gingahbread," said the Little Colonel, and Rob added, reassuringly.

"We won't let her touch you. Now I'm going all the way around by the spring-house, so she can't see me, for I'm her sworn enemy. When I get under the pantry window I'll call like some bird -- say a pewee. When you hear that, Pearline, you just come a-jumping. She always sets the things out on that shelf under the pantry window to cool, and you slip in and pass that gingerbread out to me before she has time to guess what's happened."

Rob started off, and a moment later the clear call of "pewee" floated up from under the pantry window, to the waiting group on the porch. "Come on, let's see the ogre get him," called Keith. Just as they rushed around the corner of the house they heard a scream, and then a mighty clatter of falling tinware in the kitchen made them pause.

There was a scurry of flying feet through the orchard, and a snapping of dry twigs. Rob had made his escape with the gingerbread, but hapless Pearline had fallen into the clutches of the ogre. Only for a moment, however. Through the window came a flash of red calico, and up the path two bare black legs went flying like run-away windmills. The broad slap-slap of Aunt Cindy's pursuing slipper soles followed, but it was an uneven race. Pearline, wasting not a single breath in outcry, fled around the house and down the avenue like a swift black shadow, and her panting pursuer was left to hold her fat sides in helpless wrath.

"Just you wait till I get my hands on you, chile," she called with an angry toss of her white-turbaned head. "I'll make you sma't !  I'll learn you to come carryin' off white folkses vittles an' scarin' me out of my seven senses!"

"No, Aunt Cindy, you sha'n't touch her! You mustn't do a thing to Pearline," called the Little Colonel, meeting her squarely in the path and stamping her foot. "It's all ou' fault, because we sent her, and it was Rob who carried off the gingahbread. There he comes now."

Aunt Cindy darted an angry look at her sworn enemy, as he came up with hands and mouth both full. Then facing the children, with her hands on her hips, she launched into such a scolding as only an old black mammy, who has faithfully served three generations of a family, is permitted to give.

"For mercy sakes, Aunt Cindy, what are you making such a fuss for ? " exclaimed Keith. "It's all your own fault. You know as well as we do that nobody in the Valley can make cake as good as yours. You oughtn't to have tempted us with such delicious gingerbread. It's the best I ever tasted." Here he stuffed his mouth full again, with an ecstatic "Yum, but that's good," and passed the plate back to Betty.

There was no resisting the flattery of Keith's expression as he swallowed the stolen sweets. A grim smile twitched Aunt Cindy's black face, but to hide the fact that her vanity had been touched by the chorus of unstinted praise which followed Keith's compliments, she began flapping her face with her gingham apron.

"Oh, you go 'long!" she exclaimed, in a gruff voice. But knowing Aunt Cindy, they knew that they had appeased her, and even Pearline need no longer fear her wrath, although she grumbled loudly all the way back to her savoury kitchen.

They carried the plate around to the porch, followed by the three Bobs in their big bows of yellow, pink, and green, who tumbled around their feet, begging for crumbs until the last one was eaten, and then curled up in the hammock beside Betty.

"I wonder what we'll be doing ten years from now," said Malcolm, as he picked up his banjo again and began striking soft chords. He was looking dreamily down the long locust avenue where the afternoon shadows were lengthening across the lawn.

"I'll be through college by that time, and Rob and Keith will be starting back for their junior year. You girls will be out in society probably, and old Aunt Cindy will surely be dead and gone. I wonder if we'll ever sit here together again and talk about old times and laugh over this afternoon --- the way Pearline flew through that window. Wasn't it funny?"

"I am more interested in what I may be doing ten weeks from now," said Betty. "I haven't an idea whether I'll be in London or Paris or the Black Forest. I don't know where Cousin Carl expects to take us first. But I'd rather not know. The whole trip is sure to be full of delightful surprises as a fruit-cake is of goodies. I'd rather happen on them as they come, than crumble it up to find what there'll be ten bites ahead."

"Well, I know what I'll be doing," said the Little Colonel, decidedly. "School begins then, and it will he the same old things ovah and ovah again. Music lessons, practice an' school; school an' practice an' music lessons. Oh, I know what is ahead of me. All plain cake without a single plum in it."

"Don't be so sure of that, little daughter," said a pleasant voice in the doorway, and looking up, they saw Mrs. Sherman standing there with an open letter in her hand. "We can never be sure of our to-morrows, or even our to-days, and here is a surprise for you to begin with, Lloyd."

Malcolm sprang up to bring her a chair, and Lloyd tumbled the Bobs out of the hammock that she might take their place beside Betty, while she listened to the reading of the letter.

"It is from Mrs. Appleton --- from your Cousin Hetty," began Mrs. Sherman, turning to Betty. "I wrote her that you wanted to go back to the farm a little while before starting abroad with Eugenia and her father, and this is her answer. She has invited Lloyd and me to go with you for a short visit."

"Oh, godmother! And you'll go?" cried Betty, nearly spilling Lloyd out of the hammock as she sprang up in joyful surprise. "You don't know how I've dreaded leaving you and dear old Locust. It will not be half so hard if you can go with me, and I want you both to see Davy and all the places I've talked about so often."

"But how can I miss school, Mothah?" cried the Little Colonel. "I'll fall behind in all my classes."

"Not so far but that you can make it up afterward by a little extra study. Besides, you will be going to school every day that you are away. I don't mean the kind you are thinking of," she hastened to say, seeing the look of wonder in Lloyd's eyes.

"But every day will be a school day and you'll learn more of some things than all your books can teach you. There are all sorts of lessons waiting for you in the cuckoo's Nest."

Lloyd and Betty gave each other a delighted hug while Rob remarked, mournfully, "I wish my father and mother wanted me to have some school days that are all holidays. Think, of it, boys, not a line of Latin."

The five o'clock train came rumbling down the track with a shrill warning whistle, as it passed the entrance gate at Locust.

"It is time to go, Keith," exclaimed Malcolm. "You know we promised grandmother and Aunt Allison to be back at half-past five. We must say good-bye now, for ten whole months."

"It will be longer than that for me," said Betty, wistfully, as the boys came up to shake hands. There is no telling what will happen with the ocean between us. But no matter where I go, I'll never forget how lovely you have all been to me this summer and I'll always think of this as the dearest spot on earth, --- my old Kentucky home."

They watched the three boys go strolling off down the avenue, shoulder to shoulder, feeling that all the good times were disappearing with them. Their they fell to talking of the Cuckoo's Nest, and making plans for their visit. But what happened there must wait to be told at the second bubbling of the caldron and another ringing of the bells.

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